Formula 1 teams face a lot of competition in the sport. Each car has its own unique characteristics that might either give them an advantage over other cars or put them at a disadvantage. This is what makes Formula 1 so competitive as all teams fight make the best car.
F1 cars should not all be the same, as the competitive environment forces teams to innovate, making for exciting racing and it helps bring advanced technologies into everyday cars too. While all of the cars might look identical to the naked eye, there are big differences between them.
Each F1 team is responsible for creating their own car based on a set of rules they are provided with at the beginning of the season. Much like a school project, each team will come up with their own project which will be unique to others. Below, we take a closer look at this issue.
Are All F1 Cars Identical?
None of the Formula 1 cars on the grid are identical. While each team has their own unique design, even two cars within the same team can have some small differences that can be difficult to spot for casual F1 fans, but that can make all the difference in a race.
Firstly, each team must build their own cars. This means that everyone has a different interpretation of the rules and how they can build their cars. This is the first element that differentiates the cars on the grid.
Each team will build their own car and launch it to the public before the start of a season. However, teams are not allowed to copy one another, and the FIA does various tests to ensure that this rule is adhered to. Teams can take inspiration from others, but they have to redesign the concept in their own way.
Budget Plays A Part
Some teams have an advantage over others in terms of having a higher budget, allowing them to do more research and development on their car. The bigger teams also have better facilities to make use of. This allows them to develop and test their new cars much faster and more effectively. Everything from wind tunnels to crash testing will have an impact on the quality of the car.
However, there are budget caps introduced to minimize these advantages, and there are even limits on how much time can be spent using facilities like wind tunnels.
The bigger teams also draw in more talented and experienced engineers who will be able to build a better car. This allows the bigger teams to headhunt the best engineers and therefore build a better car than their competitors.
Works & Customer Teams
Teams who do not have a dedicated engine factory have to become ‘customer teams.’ This means that they need to use the engines provided by one of the works teams, and don’t have much of a say in terms of engine development. This is one of the reasons Formula 1 wants to draw in more engine suppliers to offer a wider variety to teams.
All of these factors combined means that each car on the grid is unique and there is a separation between teams. This makes the sport more exciting and diverse, as it is more team focused and not just about the drivers.
Formula 1 is competitive in every way, and teams will work hard to develop their cars over the season to bring in new upgrades in an attempt to get the edge over their competition. However, the upgrades do not always pay off, and in some cases, they can make the cars slower.
It goes even further in the sense that cars within a team aren’t identical either. Some drivers have specific preferences that their teams need to cater for. This means that no two cars are the same. For example, the placement of the buttons on the steering wheels can differ from driver to driver based on what they prefer.
Why F1 Cars Are Not Equal
Formula 1 is very much a team sport. In order to promote teamwork and development from each team, the cars are not made equal. Some cars are faster than others simply because the team have put together a better car than their competition.
Each team has to focus on building the best car that they can in order to try and win the world championship, and it’s not just about the driver behind the steering wheel. This makes Formula 1 an extremely challenging and demanding sport, not just for the drivers but also for the crew members.
Who Can Design The Best Car?
Each team has their own interpretation of the rules, which is why we often see some big differences between the cars. Some of the cars that are built will perform really well, whereas others might struggle, and this simply comes down to how well the car has been designed and built by the team.
However, teams often find somewhat of a loophole in the rules that they can exploit and develop more than other teams. This is when we begin to see one team dominating more than others. We saw it with the Ferraris in the early 2000s, the Red Bulls in the early 2010s, and the Mercedes from 2014 onwards.
It seems that every time there is a big rule change a new team makes their way to the front. This is because the smaller teams tend to have a big focus on the new rule changes as they do not have to develop their car in order to stay in the championship fight. This means they sacrifice current performance for (hopefully) an advantage in the future.
Why Are Some F1 Cars Faster Than Others?
In Formula 1 there is normally a gap between cars from different teams. You might see a top two, then a midfield, followed by one or two teams at the back of the grid. This can change depending on how well teams are able to build their cars.
In general, the gap between teams is between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds depending on a variety of factors, including which track they are on, and what the cars’ advantages and disadvantages are. With each car being unique, the gap between teams can also end up varying a lot.
2021 F1 Season
Each team will have its own strengths and weaknesses. If we take 2021 for example, Mercedes had the best engine, and therefore a lot of power and straight-line speed, which gave them an advantage on faster tracks with long straights.
Red Bull on the other hand didn’t have the most powerful engine (but still very close), which gives them a power disadvantage against Mercedes. However, they had excellent aerodynamics, which allowed them to become faster than Mercedes on the tighter and more twisty parts of the track that rely on cornering ability.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the type of car that the team has built. Each team focuses on something as their top priority, such as aerodynamics, engine power, or even mechanical grip. This usually means teams perform well in some aspects, but suffer in others that haven’t seen as many resources dedicated to them.
Other Differences Between The Cars
Not only are some cars faster than others, but they are also unique in other ways. For example, some cars are gentler on their tires. This gives the teams an opportunity to make their cars’ tires last longer, giving them more strategical flexibility during a race.
Other cars might have more fuel-efficient engines, which means that they can drive faster for longer than their competition. Since refueling during a race was banned for the 2010 season onwards, teams have to ensure that their cars can complete the full race distance on one tank of fuel, leaving enough in the tank for the FIA to take a sample for testing afterwards.
It Should Create Diversity
By having these contracts between cars and teams, the sport becomes more interesting as there are different elements to consider when it comes to who will win. Each track can throw out different results because of the different characteristics, and it might suit one team more than another. This, in theory, should mean it’s not the same teams winning every race, even though that’s often the case.
Will F1 Cars Ever Be Identical?
F1 cars will likely never be identical. There’s no telling what the future holds for Formula 1, but it’s fairly safe to assume there will always be some sort of variation between the cars. The different teams and different car builds add a dynamic to the sport which is hard to find elsewhere.
One of the more exciting aspects of watching F1 is waiting to see who has built the best car and made the most of their research and development. This element makes Formula 1 more of a team sport rather than just focusing on the drivers’ abilities.
We usually see cars at their closest when the new rule changes first show up. This is because most teams have a strict set of rules to follow, and they haven’t developed updated parts or concepts yet.
Different Engine Manufacturers
Even so, the cars won’t be identical, and each one will still have its own advantages and disadvantages. The internal side of the cars will always have a contrast too, as each engine manufacturer builds their own unique engine and there are a lot of differences between just this one component.
Many of the junior formula series have identical cars. Series such as Formula 2 and Formula 3 are part of the ladder into Formula 1. These cars are all identical in the way they look, the way they are built, and their internal components. They only vary slightly depending on individual car setups.
The Junior Formulas
However, this is done for good reason. When it comes to the junior series on the ladder to Formula 1, the aim is to find the next Formula 1 superstars. In order to do that, they need to find out which driver is the best on the grid.
The best way to analyze the Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers is by putting them all in equal cars. Even though all the parts, including the engines, are the exact same, some drivers might struggle.
Each driver has their own unique driving style and different setups they prefer. Setting up the car is crucial for these drivers, and it’s an important skill they need to learn in order to prepare for Formula 1.
However, in Formula 1 it’s not just the driver that is important. The entire team has to build a car, and part of the beauty of the sport are the unique ideas that engineers are able to come up with when building their cars before the season starts. But let’s take a closer look at this idea of spec racing, to see if it could eventually be the right fit for Formula One.
What Is Spec Racing?
Spec racing is a type of racing where some parts on the cars are standardized across the entire series. Formula 2 and Formula 3 are examples of spec racing because the cars are all identical and none of the teams are allowed to develop or change their parts in any significant way.
However, it can become more intricate than this in the sense that a series can limit the spec parts specifically. For example, a series could make spec aerodynamics rules which would make all the cars use identical aerodynamic parts. However, they may still have freedom over the specifics of their engines.
This creates a new challenge for the teams as they need to find other ways to get the edge over their competition. In a spec series there are fewer parts that you can develop and upgrade in order to get the edge over your competition, and so it puts the performance onus on the drivers.
Down To The Driver
Spec racing is a good way to take the focus away from the car and put it more onto the driver’s abilities. This is why most grassroots motorsport such as karting and even single seaters use spec cars, which are mostly identical to one another aside from the setup of the car.
In these series it’s more about which driver can perform the best when given the same equipment. Giving each driver the same equipment levels the playing field and gives you a better idea of which drivers are actually better than others.
However, not all good drivers will shine in a spec series. For many, it depends on the car that they are driving. For example, there are many karting drivers who have struggled, but as soon as they move up to a single seater race car, they are exceptionally fast. This mostly comes down to their driving style and how they adapt to the cars, rather than their raw ability.
This is something to keep in mind when it comes to a spec series. Just because all the cars are equal, it doesn’t mean that the driver that finishes last is the worst and the driver that finishes first is the best on the grid. Racing is such a fine-margin sport that means the best driver in an F3 or W Series car won’t necessarily be the best driver in an F2 or F1 car.
Will F1 Ever Be A Spec Series?
F1 will likely never be a spec series. The team aspect is very important to the sport, and it will remain that way for years to come. However, F1 does use some aspects of spec racing, namely in the tires that the drivers must use and some of the systems used on the car, such as DRS.
Many teams would be against the idea of Formula 1 becoming a spec series because it would take away the need for them to have factories with expensive research and development equipment that they have invested millions into over the years.
It would also put many of the teams’ employees out of work, as much of the workforce in a Formula 1 team is dedicated to building their own parts and developing them to improve the overall speed of their cars. Without the need to design non-spec parts, there’s no need to employ all of those people.
More Spec Parts
With that said, it won’t come as too much of a surprise if Formula 1 considers using more spec parts in the future. The sport is moving more towards reducing the overall costs involved. They have already taken steps in this direction by implementing a budget cap and enforcing an engine freeze until 2025.
With all of the cost cutting measures being implemented, turning F1 into a spec series could be on the horizon in an attempt to bring costs down even further. The challenge, however, would be to keep the drivers, teams and fans happy with such a decision. It is a major change that will affect the entire sport, and this is an important factor that the decision makers of Formula 1 must consider.
Spec racing usually means closer racing, as you can see in series like F2 and even IndyCar, which isn’t a fully spec series but clearly has large aspects of one. However, F1 aims to make closer racing a possibility through its own regulation changes, rather than making F1 full spec racing.
All F1 cars should not be the same, as the team aspect of F1 is one of the most exciting and interesting parts of the sport. If all F1 cars were the same, it would be a spec series, making all of the innovation and money spent on R&D redundant, and it would likely cost many jobs too.